10 Interesting Talks and Presentations Designers Should Watch

Design conferences are fun. They are full of energetic, creative people exchanging ideas and giving brilliant talks. But these events can also be rather expensive. Luckily, there are lots of amazing content from the world’s best web conferences available online. All you need is to take some time out of your busy schedule to watch and listen to what the experts have to share.

Here are 10 amazing presentations on topics dear to every designer’s heart, covering everything from dealing with clients to web typography, responsive web design to impostor syndrome. They may not be the most recent of talks but what is important is the message the talks are trying to deliver.

1. "On the Craft of Design and Working with Clients" – Mike Monteiro

Designers are, by default, amazing at pushing pixels on a screen and creating beautiful, thoughtful designs. Presenting those thoughtful solutions, however, can be a stressful experience. If you’re working at an agency or studio it can be especially tempting to just have your creative director show the work to the client. You might tell yourself that he will do it better, because he’s a better speaker, with more experience – but no one can explain your design decisions better than you.

In his funny and informative talk, Mike Monteiro reminds us why selling is a core design skill: because a good designer who can sell his work is more valuable than an amazing one who can’t. The whole talk is more than an hour long but you can start at around 18:00 for 13 mistakes designers make during client presentations; see if you’re guilty of any (and ways to improve, if you are).

You have been lied to! […] Does good design sell itself? Fundamentally, NO.Mike Monteiro

2. "F* You, Pay Me" – Mike Monteiro.

Have you ever worked on a project without getting a contract first? A lot of designers who are just starting out might have done this at one point. Contracts do seem intimidating, especially at first. The great thing about them is that they help you and your client have clear expectations about the job. They protect you both if something goes wrong. If a client decides to pull the plug on a project that’s only halfway done, would you know what to do or expect? You should.

In this half-hour breakfast talk Mike Monteiro and his lawyer Gabe Lavine talk about contract-writing and getting paid, and get lots of applause. They name a few worst-case client scenarios, things they don’t negotiate on and why, and really show why having a lawyer in your corner can save the day.

You’re at the point where you need a lawyer when you’ve decided to stop being a design amateur and become a design professional.Mike Monteiro

3. “We’re Not Worthy”- Lori Widelitz-Cavallucci & Amy Silvers

Do you ever feel less knowledgeable or less accomplished than your friends? The phenomenon called impostor syndrome is common among designers, UX professionals, and other creative people, though perhaps not widely known. We have a tendency to compare ourselves to the best: see their beautiful websites, their insightful blog posts, big name clients – then think we fall short.

Lori and Amy’s session is drier than the previous ones on the list, but it’s only 26 minutes long, and what it has to say is something very important. A feeling that many of us struggle with. A feeling of not being good enough. Skip to 13:00 if you just want to see survey results from a study among designers and how they feel about their skill level.

It’s the sense that you’re a fraud. That you don’t deserve any of the success that you’ve achieved.Lori Widelitz-Cavallucci

4. "10 Commandments of Web Design" – Jeffrey Zeldman

Jeffrey Zeldman starts his presentation by promising it will help web designers get from pretty good to awesome. When it comes to web design, there’s so much to think about and it’s easy to get caught up in the technical stuff sometimes. There are some big-picture things we might overlook because of that, like that websites should be fun.

“Thou shalt entertain” is his first commandment. A boring website will not hold anyone’s attention for longer than a couple of seconds. To get (more) awesome, check out the full 1-hour talk and get a full list of commandments, including “test everything (including assumptions)” and “thou shalt ship.”

Often overlooked: the idea that a website should be an entertaining and delightful experience.Jeffrey Zeldman

5. "Responsive Web Design is Hard / Easy! Be Afraid / Don’t Worry!" – Dan Mall

Is the design process broken? Dan Mall says yes and sees it as an opportunity to change the way we work. The old method of web designing – plan, design, develop, launch – doesn’t work as great as it used to. With the proliferation of responsive design, he’s discovered new processes that can help designers work better with clients.

He advocates for style tiles, element collages and showing the clients what a site will feel like rather than a pixel-perfect psd every time. This is meant to save time and facilitate a good dialogue with the client. The whole presentation is 45 minutes but if you want to skip the intro, start at about 8:50 to hear about his approach or fast forward to the style tile talk at 16:20.

Photoshop comps don’t cut it. At least not in the way they used to.Dan Mall

6. "Your CSS is a Mess" – Jonathan Snook

In this talk, Jonathan Snook talks about the importance of clean and easy to understand code. The beauty of CSS lies in its flexibility, but that’s also when things can get complicated. Have you ever been in a situation where you worked on a project started by someone else and it took a while to figure out how it was coded? Or had some random class names you couldn’t figure out?

The speaker advocates for clarity in naming conventions and making sure we don’t needlessly complicate things. Even though the presentation is from 2012, all the concepts presented in it are still relevant today. It’s roughly 33 minutes long and is a great reminder about mindfulness and making things understandable.

Use CLASS over ID – don’t use a grenade to dig a hole when a shovel will do.Jonathan Snook

7. "Top 10 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People" – Susan Weinschenk

This is a fascinating presentation on why people do what they do, backed by the science of psychology. We work hard designing websites for people to interact with – but so much of what they do is dependent on their un- or sub-consciousness. This amazing talk gives us tools for our designer toolbox to help us better influence people’s actions. It explains, among other things, why are humans attracted faces? (and how can that help a website?)

If you have 44 minutes to spare, this is a must-see. Want to dive deeper into learning about people’s online behavior? Alternatively, you can read about 6 psychological reasons of why people act the way they do online.

It’s really easy when we are designing something […] to get all caught up in the design and to even forget that at the other end of this thing we’re designing is a person who has to use it.Susan Weinschenk

8. "Content First! Everything We Know is Wrong" – Jeffrey Zeldman.

Have you ever designed a pixel-perfect website just to have a client add a tiny new piece of content to it? And that new content frustratingly breaks the flow of the design somehow? Jeffrey Zeldman tells us that a website is not a brochure. A website is never final; it is a living, flexible, constantly changing medium that needs to be mindful of the user’s goals. It should accommodate various scenarios.

It’s easy to forget sometimes and this presentation, which shows examples of sites that got it right (and wrong) is a good reminder of why it matters. The whole thing is close to an hour long but worth spending your time on.

Our designs are often hostile to content.Jeffrey Zeldman

9. "Design Principles for a Better Mobile Web" – Jennifer Gove

Mobile experience can be an afterthought, or not even thought of at all. But, as statistics show, it cannot be ignored. To make things easier for designers, Jennifer Gove gives us 25 principles for building better mobile websites in less than 45 minutes.

Because Jennifer Gove is a UX researcher at Google, they’re all based on data from a large usability study rather than expert opinions, which is interesting. Start at 8:25 for a list of the principles and see all the good (and bad) examples that illustrate them.

There are more mobile devices and mobile device subscriptions than there are toothbrushes in the world.Jennifer Gove

10. "The State of Web Typography" – Bram Stein

Web fonts are awesome. They make the world a little more beautiful and websites have more character. Gone are the days of web-safe everything. Whether you’re just beginning with using web fonts or quite an expert in what they have to offer, this talk is for you. Everything you ever wanted to know about web type – kerning, hyphenation, OpenType features and more is covered in this 26 minute talk.

Are there any type designers in the audience? No? Good. I’m gonna say some horrible things about OpenType features.Bram Stein

Wrap Up

There’s lots of amazing presentations on the web. Some are just funny, others will present amazing new developments happening in the industry, yet others help us be better designers. Do you have a favorite talk on the web? Share in the comments! For more insightful talks for designers, check out these 10 unmissable TED videos for designers.